NCH is part of Endeavor Health

Learn more

News  ›  Fitness and Nutrition

Lighten it up this holiday season by making wiser dietary choices at celebrations

December 15, 2017

Rosemary Mueller, M.P.H., RDN, LDN, Clinical Dietitian at Northwest Community Healthcare Wellness Center

Despite a flurry of holiday activities, it’s still possible to eat well. Follow the simple strategies below for dashing through the season a bit healthier.


  • Don’t arrive to a holiday gathering on an empty stomach. Eat balanced, light meals on a schedule that day and be sure to drink enough water.
  • Consider appetizers as part of your meal. Limit your meal portions accordingly.
  • Fill half your dinner plate with “lighter options” such as vegetables, salads, vinaigrette-based slaws, plain fruit, legumes and vegetable-based clear soups. Eat this half of your meal first before moving on to other items such as rich casseroles, higher-fat proteins and breads with spread.
  • Don’t park yourself in the kitchen – or wherever the food table is. Once you have selected an appetizer or chosen your meal items, leave the food area if possible and decide not to refill your plate a second time.
  • Limit the variety of high-calorie foods on your party plate. Research shows the more variety of food tastes, textures, smells, shapes and colors we are exposed to, the more we’ll eat. Cut down your “personal smorgasbord” and you could decrease your total eating by 20 to 40 percent.
  • Sit next to a fellow “healthy eater.” If you can’t find one, sit next to someone who eats slowly – this will help you pace yourself. Eat mindfully and enjoy the smell, taste and texture of each item.
  • Limit treats. Choose foods that are truly special and unique to the season, and for the really higher sugar and salt options, take only a few bites.
  • Pop a sugar-free mint in your mouth when you’ve had enough to help curb additional noshing.


If you are the guest:

  • Take matters into your own hands and bring a delicious, healthy dish. Consider a colorful salad, lean protein dish or tasty whole-grain side. For a dessert option, try a lovely fruit tray or a crustless pie.

If you are the host:

  • Put out smaller plates for your guests. People tend to fill their plates.
  • Include lots of seasonal, colorful fruits and vegetables.
  • Consider amending some of your own holiday dishes to slash fat and calories. Use low fat/nonfat dairy products or low fat/nonfat mayo and salad dressings instead of regular versions. Also, cut back on salt and sugar in recipes. Limit rich gravies and sauces. Cut desserts in small portions.
  • Give it back. Dish out leftovers to guests.

Potables (beverages)

New recommendations from the American Society of Clinical Oncology urge, “If you want to reduce your cancer risk, drink less. And if you don’t drink, don’t start.” Alcohol contains quite a few calories and breaks down your inhibitions when it comes to food (i.e., drink too much and you’ll probably eat too much).

  • Practice moderation. A serving of alcohol is 100 to 150 calories, but that doesn’t include sugary or high-caloric ingredients that accompany cocktails or festive drinks. For instance, a cup of spiked eggnog, a candy cane martini or a glass of sangria can include 250 calories or more for a single serving.
  • Serving size matters. One serving is: 12 ounces/regular beer (150 calories), 5 ounces/wine (100 calories), 1.5 ounces/80-proof distilled spirits (100 calories).
  • Cut calories in half and reduce alcohol consumption by alternating water or seltzer with your alcoholic beverages.
  • Use low-calorie mixers such as no-calorie soda or tonic water, or lemon and lime wedges.
  • Pour drinks into tall, skinny glasses. You’ll pour and drink less.
  • Keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty glass of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more.
  • Savor your drinks by sipping slowly.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach.
  • Be aware of calorie-laden beverages such as eggnog. Use light versions or limit to a ½ cup serving.

Enjoy the recipe below for a festive, light and refreshing non-alcoholic beverage. Happy, healthy holidays!

Cranberry Ginger Beer Sparkling Drink

Serves: 6

Ginger beer is a trendy beverage with a crisp taste. For this recipe, make sure to use non-alcoholic ginger beer (regular ginger ale can also substitute).


  • 1 cup cranberry juice
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 cup ginger beer (or ginger ale for a sweeter drink)
  • 2 1/2 cups lime-flavored, unsweetened seltzer water
  • 1 cup frozen cranberries
  • Very thinly sliced candied ginger for garnish (optional)


In a large pitcher, combine all of the ingredients and stir. Serve over ice; include three to four frozen cranberries in each glass. Optional: Garnish with a thin slice or two of candied ginger (available at Trader Joe’s).

Calories per serving: 66 (16.5 grams of carbohydrate/serving)